Dickens at Christmas! A Christmas Carol: An Audible Original Drama

The Spirits of Christmas

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

It’s been my habit for many years to revisit Dickens’ best known Christmas story over the festive season each year. Sometimes this will be for a re-read but in recent years I’ve been enjoying some of the many adaptations of it in film or on audio. This year I went for Audible’s full cast dramatisation, having enjoyed several of their other productions. I knew going in that it had some great competition to beat – Patrick Stewart’s abridged narration has been my go-to for years, and Tom Baker’s unabridged version is up there at the same standard. But this one has Derek Jacobi as Dickens/the narrator, and anyone who’s read my reviews will know I am a huge fan of his audio narrations.

This follows the pattern Audible have been using for their Original Drama series of being part narration, part dramatisation. I love this approach. The dramatised elements make it a livelier listen which holds my attention better than even excellent straight narrations sometimes do, while the narrated bits allow for the depth and background that sometimes gets lost when a book is reduced to only dialogue in a full-scale dramatisation. It allows the listener to hear the author’s voice come through in the writing which, especially when the author is as brilliant as Dickens, is an essential.

Derek Jacobi

Jacobi is undoubtedly the star of this production, having by far the biggest role as narrator of the linking pieces between the relatively sparse dialogue. He is excellent, of course, but not having the chance to create any of the wonderfully larger-than-life characters meant I felt his talents were a tiny bit wasted. Personally I’d have preferred him to be performing Scrooge, especially since I felt Kenneth Cranham’s performance in the role was a little too understated for my taste. However that’s purely a subjective opinion – I love the big, booming, overblown performances of Stewart and Baker, but Cranham’s quieter interpretation may work better for many people. The division between narrator and main character in this dramatisation leaves Cranham with a far smaller role than either Stewart or Baker, since they have the fun of creating their own dramatic interpretation of the non-dialogue parts too.

Kenneth Cranham

All the other performances are good, with no weak links in the chain. The standouts for me are Jamie Glover as Bob Cratchit and Miriam Margolyes as The Ghost of Christmas Present. Glover’s Cratchit is less down-trodden than he is sometimes portrayed, somehow – I can’t quite put my finger on why, exactly, since as far as my not always reliable memory could confirm there were no changes to the words Dickens gives him. But Glover’s performance conveyed him to me as a strong, good-humoured man, limited by his poverty, but not broken by his miserly, bullying boss or the circumstances of his life. I enjoyed him very much.

Jamie Glover

Margolyes is an old hand at Dickens, not just appearing in many of the BBC serialisations over the decades, but also having performed in her one-woman show, Dickens’ Women, for some years (a wonderful performance that’s also available on audio and which I highly recommend). So she ‘gets’ him, and is not afraid to exploit the huge emotional range he allows to those who perform his work. For me, a successful Dickens performance is when I can imagine it might be done as he himself would have delivered it at one of his famous readings, and Margolyes is one of those actors who always achieves this. She frightened me and moved me – when she talked of Ignorance and Want I believed utterly that she meant every terrible, warning word, sadly as relevant today as when Dickens wrote them.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!”

Miriam Margolyes

If the adaptation by RD Carstairs is abridged at all, it must be very lightly. I noticed nothing missing and the running time is similar to an unabridged narration. It may be that there are minor changes to the order of some parts – there’s quite a lot of quick cutting between Jacobi’s narration and Scrooge’s inner thoughts as delivered by Cranham that worked very effectively to bring the two parts together. But there are certainly no significant changes to either tone or meaning and all the words, I think, are Dickens’ own.

So, in conclusion, a hugely enjoyable dramatisation which, while it might not quite have replaced Stewart or Baker as my favourite audio version, is certainly up there in contention with them. Highly recommended.

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link

Merry Christmas, Everybody! 🎅

Bah! Humbug! Dickens’ Women co-written and performed by Miriam Margolyes

HAVE A DICKENS OF A CHRISTMAS!

 

Love her, love her, love her!

santasantasantasantasanta

 

 

Dickens womenMiriam Margolyes is one of our best and best-known character actresses. From a variety of roles in Blackadder to Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter films, she has shown her talents for comedy time and again. But she’s also a very fine dramatic actress who has had major supporting roles in many films and TV series including, of course, some of the BBC adaptations of Dickens over the years. Some years ago she co-wrote (with Sonia Fraser) a one-woman show where she talks about Dickens’ life and performs some of his characters. This audiobook is a recording of some of that show made in front of a live audience.

‘Mrs. Corney, ma’am,’ said Mr. Bumble, slowly, and marking the time with his teaspoon, ‘I mean to say this, ma’am; that any cat, or kitten, that could live with you, ma’am, and not be fond of its home, must be a ass, ma’am.’
‘Oh, Mr Bumble!’ remonstrated Mrs. Corney.
‘It’s of no use disguising facts, ma’am,’ said Mr. Bumble, slowly flourishing the teaspoon with a kind of amorous dignity which made him doubly impressive; ‘I would drown it myself, with pleasure.’

As Margolyes talks about The Great Man, it’s clear that she’s a huge admirer of his writing, particularly of the way he creates somewhat caricatured but unforgettable characters. She draws parallels between his life and his work, and often tells us about the real person who inspired a particular character. But she does it all with a great sense of fun – mocking both Dickens and herself as we go. Her little section on all Dickens’ nauseatingly sweet seventeen-year-old heroines is hilarious, as we hear her getting more and more fed up with his idealisation of youth, beauty and most of all, petiteness as the perfect woman. And she doesn’t hold back when she tells us about Dickens’ appalling treatment of his wife. She takes us through from his early days in the blacking factory to his death, packing a lot of information in along the way, but all most entertainingly.

sairey gampmiss havishamicruiks001p4

But the real joy of the disc is in the readings – performances, really. From the humour of Sairey Gamp to the sorrow and madness of Miss Flite, she takes us on a trip through some of the best known of Dickens’ women, but also includes some of the characters from his lesser read works. We have Mrs Lirriper’s story of Willing Sophy, the girl with the eternal smudge of blacking on her nose, from Household Words, and the description of the Clemms from The Uncommercial Traveller. Little Nell, Rosa Dartle and Mrs Micawber all put in an appearance. Her performance of Mr Bumble’s courtship of Mrs Corney is superb and had me laughing out loud again and again, while Miss Havisham comes across as truly bitter and twisted, and frightening in her intensity.

“Love her, love her, love her! If she favours you, love her. If she wounds you, love her. If she tears your heart to pieces, – and as it gets older and stronger it will tear deeper, – love her, love her, love her!…I’ll tell you what real love is. It is blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world, giving up your whole heart and soul to the smiter – as I did!”

MARGOLYES

All-in-all this is a tour-de-force performance that, with a running time of an hour and a half, will keep you smiling while you make a start on wrapping those pesky presents. Have a Dickens of a Christmas!

Amazon UK Link
Audible UK Link
Amazon US Link
Audible US Link